All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2017 unless otherwise noted.
Wednesday, May 23, 2017
Anyone who follows these posts on a regular basis already knows that I have a “thing” for Oceania Cruises and that I am a big fan of their intimate, 30,277-gt, 874-passenger “R Ships” built for now-defunct Renaissance Cruises between 1998 and 2001. So, the chance to sail in the Insignia (ex R-One) once more on a 12-night segment of the ship’s recent 180-day world cruise came with more than the usual dose of anticipation.
After a relatively painless but long commute, our plane was arcing its way over Barcelona shortly after dawn on a sunny Tuesday morning.
We rode the convenient Metro line into central Barcelona only to wander aimlessly with luggage in tow, looking for the Hilton. Once we found it, we dropped off the impedimenta and headed out on a self-guided walking tour of the Catalan city of wonders, taking in the magnificent architecture, which runs the gamut, from Gothic to Gaudi and then some.
After some delicious Turkish food near Las Ramblas, we hiked back to the hotel and called it an early night.
Thursday, May 23, 2017
Since INSIGNIA had actually began this segment of the voyage in Civitaveccia, we were joining her “in transit”, meaning all we had to do was get to the terminal after the ship cleared and self-embark. We hailed a cab for the World Trade Center cruise terminal, where we found the INSIGNIA waiting at 10:00.
Within moments of clearing security, we were wheeling our luggage to forward/port Deck 7, where our Concierge Veranda stateroom 7012 awaited. Measuring 282-square-feet, it was a nicely laid out space with a sitting area, writing desk and a king-sized bed.
The concierge level status gave us the added benefits of more meals in the specialty restaurants, access to the spa deck, a pillow menu, cashmere lap blankets and enhanced Bvlgari toiletries.
The teak lined balcony had enough space for two chairs and a small table, however, a solid bulwark partially obscured the view.
Bathrooms in all but the suite categories on the R-Ships are tiny but then wouldn’t you rather have that little bit of extra space in your stateroom?
After dropping off our luggage, we took a quick tour of the ship. The INSIGNIA has nine passenger decks, beginning at the top with Deck 11, which features a putting course, sunning space and a shuffleboard court.
Deck 10 begins with Horizons, an excellent observation lounge with seating on three sides, a large bar and dancefloor in its midst. By day, it is home to quizzes and afternoon tea and at night, it is the lively “end up” spot with a DJ spinning music and/or karaoke.
Aft of Horizons, an open jogging/walking track encircles the midships pool area.
The far aft part of Deck 10 has one of the nicest spaces at sea (times eight, actually, as it is a feature of all the R Ships), the Library. The forward portion of the Library overlooks the pool and features a faux fireplace under a frescoed dome. Seating is rather posh with oversized, tufted leather chairs and banquettes. There is an excellent selection of books, some 1,000 in all, covering a host of topics from politics to Hollywood and art, in addition to the history of many of the places the ship visits. There are also computer terminals (charges apply for internet usage) in either wing. The Library was almost always occupied during our segment and is clearly a favorite spot for INSIGNIA’s guests.
Toscana, the Italian specialty restaurant, and Polo, the steakhouse, finish off Deck 10 — more on both as this blog unfolds.
Deck 9 begins with the Canyon Ranch Spa, which features four treatment rooms as well as separate men’s and women’s changing areas that provide access to the spa deck overlooking the bow through a screen of glass. Access to the spa deck is complimentary for Concierge Level guests and those booking treatments, otherwise, charges apply.
On the port side of the spa, there is a beauty salon and on the starboard side, the Fitness Center, which has free weights, cardio machines and weight machines as well as spinning cycles.
Aft of the spa entrance, there is a dedicated Card Room that is a favorite haven for Bridge players. It also has a wide variety of board games. Oceania at Sea, the computer and internet center, follows.
Ironically, the outdoor smoking area is just aft of the Fitness Center on the starboard side of the sheltered pool deck, which is teak-lined and features sheltered seating and open sunning space, two Jacuzzis and the pool, itself. The al fresco Waves Grill follows on the starboard side and a sheltered al fresco lounge, The Patio, is on the aft/starboard side of the pool area. More on Waves and the Terrace Cafe, in due course.
Accommodations are on Decks 8, 7 and 6. On Deck 5, there is a full suite of public spaces that begins with the Insignia Lounge. Even without pillars, the ceiling height limits the signtlines a bit but it is nonetheless a nicely laid out space with a cabaret vibe. There is a small stage, a dance floor, comfortable seating and a sunken bar area aft.
Finite sheltered promenades line either side of Deck 5, the inner portion of which is linked by a starboard passage that leads to the shopping area. On the port side is a casino that didn’t seem to get much use during our segment and a wonderful bar, aptly named Martinis. Martinis has a convincing boutique-ish vibe with tassled lamps, oversized furnishing, a faux fireplace, walnut-toned paneling and vintage oil paintings, several of which have a nautical theme.
The Deck 5 passage continues between the shops to the Upper Lobby area, an Edwardian-inspired mezzanine with comfy seating that overlooks the “Y-shaped” grand staircase, the iconic R-Ship feature largely attributed to the TITANIC, since the first ships in the class came out a year after the James Cameron film.
Veering off to starboard once more, the remainder of Deck 5 is relegated to another favorite space, the complimentary Baristas specialty coffee venue. We would pause here for a nice cappuccino and some tasty confections that were, unlike those on many cruise ships, worth their caloric intake.
We wrapped up our tour in the reception area on Deck 4, just in time to head up to the Terrace Cafe for lunch. More accommodations and the medical center can be found on Decks 4 and 3.
For a casual shipboard buffet eatery, the Terrace is about as good as it gets. The indoor portion of the room is comprised of galleries on either side of the galley with comfortable seating and nice views through full length windows. The aft part of the space is dedicated to an athwartships buffet area with an adjoining pizzeria, a salad bar, pasta station, carvery, cold cuts, desserts and a gelato stand.
A teak-lined al fresco terrace seats an additional 100 guests in the shelter of a large awning. Although Oceania is not as “all-inclusive” as, say, Viking Ocean (which provides wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages with lunch and dinner), round-the-clock complimentary mineral water and sodas are served in all restaurants and bars.
After lunch, we headed off the ship for a short walk to the marina, where we caught the harbor cruise. Ten years ago, this would have been an exciting opportunity to photograph a wide variety of visiting cruise ships, old and new.
On this particular day, in addition to our lovely little INSIGNIA, Royal Caribbean’s BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS and Aida Cruises AIDASTELLA were the only other visitors. Neither had a fraction of the appeal and charm of our ship.
Back on board, we squeezed in a quick workout before boat drill and then headed up to Decks 11 and 10 to watch as INSIGNIA cast her lines and headed into the Gulf of Lyon. It was a positively beautiful day and backlit Barcelona was literally gleaming in the sunlight.
On Deck 5, the cool breeze was enhanced by the gurgle of the Mediterranean Sea.
Meanwhile, back on our balcony, a veritable fleet of Barcelona-bound ferries crossed our wake as we enjoyed a nicely chilled bottle of bubbly.
Our first dinner of the cruise would be in the open seating main dining venue, the Grand Dining Room. Although this handsome space lacks some of the height and spectacle of dining rooms on larger ships, it is infused with natural light from full length windows on three sides. Oceania has toned down some of the original Edwardian fussiness of the space, while at the same time keeping its elegance with an autumnal color scheme, plush chairs, glowing paneling and the original frescoes from the R ONE era.
Table settings in the Grand Dining Room are simply lovely, with fine linens, Riedel stemware and custom Versace chargers.
Oceania’s greatest caveat (perhaps even more than its ideal ships, great itineraries and popular enrichment program) is its cuisine. The line spends far more per guest on provisions, which include the finest meats, freshest veggies and, whenever possible, locally sourced gourmet ingredients. My eggplant starter would be the first of countless delightful morsels to be savored for the next twelve days.
After dinner, we headed to the Insignia Lounge for Beyond the Strings, a quirky, violin-playing husband and wife who intermingled Sonny and Cher-type banter with some virtuoso playing.
After the show, we haunted Martinis far longer than planned, many thanks to…
…resident pianist Bobby Hamilton, whose moody playing and soul-tinged vocals weaved even the most familiar of tunes into works of art. Imagine Satchmo infused with a soupcon of Ray Charles and a dash of Nina Simone in a backdrop of some serious bluesy ragtime. We became instant groupies and made sure to gravitate to Martinis at least one per evening, thanks to Mr. Hamilton, who is also a very skilled and determined chess player.
Out on deck, it was a balmy night as the INSIGNIA hugged Spain’s Costa del Sol, en route to Alicante, our first port of call.
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."